Australia’s legal system

Australia is a federation of six states and two territories, with a legal system based on the common law. The High Court of Australia is the highest court in the land and its decisions are binding on all other courts. The other courts in the Australian court system are the Federal Court, Family Court, Federal Circuit Court, Magistrates’ Courts and Supreme Court of each State and Territory.

The Australian Constitution is the supreme law of the land and sets out the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth Parliament is responsible for making laws in relation to matters listed in the Constitution. These matters include foreign affairs, defence, trade and commerce, taxation, social security, immigration, banking, postal services, and currency.

All other State and Territory laws must be consistent with the Commonwealth laws, and must not conflict with them. Each State and Territory also has its own Constitution, which sets out the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the State or Territory.

The Australian legal system is divided into two distinct systems of law – criminal and civil law. Criminal law is concerned with punishing those who break the law, while civil law is concerned with disputes between individuals, organisations and the government.

Australia is also a signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions, which have been incorporated into Australian law. These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Labour Organisation conventions.